“Return Israel unto Hashem for you have stumbled in your iniquity” (Hoshea 14:2).
During these days the Jewish people are immersed in doing teshuva. The process of atonement, as delineated by the Rambam, consists of identifying our missteps, repentance, regret for our misdeeds, admission of our sins before G-d, and resolving to improve in the future.
We learn in Avos (5:6), “Ten things were created on Friday evening at twilight: the mouth of the earth, the mouth of the well, the mouth of the donkey, the rainbow, the mahn, the staff of Moshe, the shamir, the letters, the writing, and the tablets.”
HaGaon R’ Aaron Leib Shteinman is particularly bothered by the creation of the mouth of the donkey, and presents the following scenario: A chosson is walking to the chuppah escorted by his father on one side, and his father-in-law on the other. The band is playing softly, the guests and distinguished participants are seated, and the mesader kiddushin is standing and waiting. Suddenly the father of the chosson calls out that everyone must wait because he forgot to take care of something. What did he forget that is so critical at this specific moment?
Hashem created the entire world in six days. On the first He created heaven and earth, on the second the rivers and seas, the third day land and plants; on the fourth day He created the sun, moon and stars, on the fifth day all fish and birds, and on the sixth the animals, Adam and Chava. But at the last moment, at twilight, Hashem had one more thing He had to create.
The Talmud relates (Gittin 57a) that Bilaam was a truly evil person who was severely punished in Gehennom for thousands of years. When Onkelos wanted to convert to Judaism, he sought the opinion of Bilaam. With great arrogance, Bilaam told him, “Don’t seek their peace or their welfare all the days.”
What was so crucially important about the “mouth of the donkey” that it was urgent for Hashem to quickly create it for such a truly evil person like Bilaam?
The creation of the unique “mouth of the donkey” established the fundamental principle of the significance of viduy – admission of one’s sins – in the process of doing teshuva.
Bilaam was an evil person who utilized his power of prophecy to curse and destroy the Jewish nation. The likelihood that he would ever apologize or ask forgiveness for his wickedness was remote. It was therefore important for Hashem to create the “mouth of the donkey,” that reproached Bilaam for striking her, in order to be able to extract from Bilaam the admission, “I have sinned.” The elicitation of the words “I have sinned” from such a wicked person as Bilaam, even though he did not ultimately truly repent and he continued to sin, is an invaluable lesson for us.
Every person has the opportunity to do teshuva, of which one of the main components is admitting one has done wrong, as we say in the viduy, “I have sinned, I have transgressed, I have committed iniquity …” viduy is a positive Torah commandment (Mitzvah 364) as it says (Bamidbar 5:6-7), “A man or woman who commits any of man’s sins … they shall confess their sin that they committed…”
The great tzaddik, R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk writes in his famous Tzetel Katan, that one should confess all the negative acts he has committed to his mentor, or even to a trusted friend. The Noam Elimelech cautions us to include any transgression, whether it occurred during the time he was learning Torah, during prayers, during eating and drinking, and not to omit any detail because he is ashamed or embarrassed. The verbalization of these acts, writes the Noam Elimelech, severs the gripping hold of the evil inclination on the individual. He describes the practice as a wondrous countermeasure in our ever-present battle with the yetzer hara.
As R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk sat in his study one day in Elul, a bachur came in requesting a blessing for the new year. He stretched out his hand to the Rebbe to give him the kvittel he was holding, stipulating that he was asking for complete repentance.
He stood trembling before the holy tzaddik, as the Noam Elimelech read the kvittel and then said in a loud voice, “Teshuva for what?”
The young man became very emotional and began to cry. He had not anticipated that he would have to confess his transgressions to the Rebbe.
“I had already begun the shacharis prayer one morning,” said the young man, “and I was in the middle of hodu when a messenger suddenly came into the bais medrash looking for me. He wanted me to pray for someone who was having trouble giving birth. The wellbeing of the child and the mother were in critical danger. Interrupting the pesukei d’zimrah of the morning service, I immediately asked for the mother’s name so I could pray on their behalf. Although in the Sefard version of the prayers hodu precedes baruch she’amar, meaning in effect that I could still interrupt my prayer, according to the Ashkenaz text the hodu follows baruch she’amar, at which time it’s no longer permissible to interrupt. So probably, even according to my text it would still not be proper to interrupt and speak.
“This being so,” concluded the bachur, “I would like to achieve complete teshuva for speaking out in middle of hodu.”
When R’ Elimelech heard this, he provided the young man with the necessary steps to attain atonement for his singular transgression after an entire year.
Each year I undertake to collect money, especially for Yom Tov, on behalf of destitute people. I have established a special Yom Tov Fund that I personally administer and distribute directly into the hands of those who are most in need.
I humbly beseech of all our loyal readers of The Jewish Press and friends of Klal Yisrael to feel the pain of our brethren and to take a part in this great mitzvah. Let us give chizuk to families, individuals, and children in need. In the zechus of your contribution, may you merit blessing and success, a year of good health, nachas, happiness and prosperity. If you would like any special tefillos to be offered for a shidduch, shalom bayis, parnassah, or a refuah, please include the person’s name and the mother’s name.
Please send your contribution to Khal Bnei Yitzchok Yom Tov Fund, c/o Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, 1336 E. 21 Street, Brooklyn, NY 11210.